Facebook vs. Google vs. Small Business

Indecisive Magic Eight BallMagic Eight Ball-ConcentrateEven my Magic 8-Ball can’t shed any light on the topic. The first time I asked the question it refused to answer: The d20 inside floated to the screen on edge. I shook the ball and asked it again. It still dodged the question and said, “Concentrate and ask again.”

What was the question that intimidated my prognosticator?

Will an Internet power shift from Google to Facebook have an impact on small businesses?

I clicked a link in my Twitter stream that set my head spinning. It’s a long article on TechCrunch that speculates that Facebook will grow larger than Google within five years. It raises questions about the future of internet advertising, influence, and the complex relationships between multi-billion-dollar companies. Among them: Where will the advertising budgets go?  Are higher click-through rates more important than highly targeted ads? What will happen to the cost of online advertising?

These are important questions for companies like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Amazon. Those companies are not my clients.

I’m far more interested in what impact will this have on the people and businesses I work with. The MI-SBTDC defines a small business as having fewer than 500 employees.

What if Facebook wins a  sumo wrestling match with Google? How will really small companies with fewer than 50 employees be affected? Here are some reasons why this would have minimal impact on small businesses, at least for the next few years.

  • I may be in the minority, but I (almost) never click on ads. It doesn’t matter whether they’re on a Google search results page or a Facebook page. If I want to find soy-based candles, I’ll hunt them down when I’m ready. I will continue not clicking on ads regardless of whether they’re on Facebook or Google. (Maybe this doesn’t support my point, but it’s my blog.)
  • Sometimes I want an answer to a question where my network lacks expertise. What does my local building code say about GFCI outlets? Where can I find documentation about a specific WordPress function? I’m not likely to ask on Facebook.
  • People establish relationships with other people, not with businesses.
  • Just because I like your business page on Facebook doesn’t mean that I will interact with you there. I “like” dozens of pages, the majority of which were “suggested” by friends who own (or know the owners of) a small business, group or cause. Guess how many times I have commented or asked a question there? Not many. In most cases I have never visited the website let alone set foot in that business.
  • I have considered cleaning up my list of likes, but I don’t want to offend the people who suggested those sites. I could just remove them all, but then I would be a hypocrite if and when I ever make a Facebook page for my business.
  • When I need to get the street address for a first-time visitor to Goldfish Tea I go to their website, not Facebook. That may change, but it will take a while before people switch that habit.
  • Imagine that the faucet on your kitchen sink breaks and you can’t shut the water off. Do you:
  1. Update your Facebook status and hope that a knowledgeable friend replies in the next few hours?
  2. Open a search engine and look for a local plumber?
  3. Look for a phone book and find a plumber with emergency service?

The relevance and usefulness of the printed telephone directory is declining. Currently Google fills that need for me. I don’t see Facebook taking over any time soon. Facebook’s interface is cumbersome and confusing, and given their track record I don’t expect them to simplify or streamline it any time soon. If I want information quickly I don’t want to poke around to find the menu that does what I want.

Here’s the big question: Should small businesses abandon their website in favor of a Facebook page?

NO!

Here’s why.

You alienate potential customers.
I know plenty of people who are not on Facebook. I know many more who have Facebook accounts but log on less than once a month. These people are not going to search for you on Facebook.

Control.
When you establish an account with any web-based service (Facebook, WordPress.com, Flickr, YouTube, Tumblr, etc.) you are bound by the Terms of Use, regardless of whether you read them (disclaimer: I haven’t either). It’s not a stretch to think Facebook has reserved the right to take down content that is inappropriate or illegal. (No, I don’t find it interesting enough to go look. Feel free to enlighten me in the comments.) By hosting your own website you retain complete control over appearance, content, who can interact on your blog, and much more.

The TechCrunch article hints that Facebook is planning to add other services (like keyword search) that might compete directly with Google. All well and good, but even if their service works better than Google’s, it will take time before they can pull a significant share of the search market.

So, what should your small business do?

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Facebook is important, Google isn’t going away any time soon, and there are other places to interact and share your message. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Test and compare multiple methods to find what works for you. If you don’t know how to do that, hire those skills.

Stay alert. Things that were working may lose effectiveness. People will keep inventing ways to interact with current customers and find new ones. Some of these will be viable, others won’t.

Leverage your agility. Small organizations can react and move quickly. Pay attention to trends, and shift when it makes sense for your business.

There are a lot of websites and analysts that will keep an eagle eye on the “battle for the internet” and report every jab, feint, and parry as if it’s going to turn the world upside down. In the end, small businesses will grow and thrive based on their own merits, not whether people search on Google, Bing, Yahoo, or Facebook. You control your destiny. Remember that.

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About TJ
The Geek Who Speaks People, TJ has a both passion and a penchant for clarifying complex subjects.

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